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LCN Says

Extenuating circumstances in applications

updated on 20 June 2023

Reading time: two minutes

All kinds of unfortunate things beyond our control can happen to put normal life on hold. Illness, bereavement and family problems are all likely to affect every one of us at some point. Yet when disaster strikes, everything else seems to carry on as usual and it’s easy to worry you’re being left behind.

When the worst happens for someone on the intensely demanding and competitive path to a career in law, it can negatively impact their studies and results. Plus, it might prevent them from pursuing valuable work experience opportunities. All of these setbacks are of course serious disadvantages when applying for a training contract or pupillage.

This is why it’s so important to inform employers and universities when you experience genuine mitigating circumstances that have affected or may affect your academic performance. This can be difficult – an applicant who’s suffered a serious illness may, understandably, be uncomfortable talking to recruiters about something so personal. Meanwhile, in the cases of some law firms that use automated application screening systems, any bad grades that could be a result of extenuating circumstances may mean that a candidate’s application is screened out before it’s even read by a human being.

How to include extenuating circumstances

So how should you go about making your course provider or potential employer aware of any genuine extenuating circumstances that have affected your application?

The first action you can take is to contact the recruitment team at the firm you want to apply to and enquire about how best to display any extenuating circumstances in an application. However, before reaching out, make sure this information isn’t readily available on the firm’s website. Keep it professional and matter-of-fact – you don’t have to disclose every detail and many people would feel uncomfortable revealing that much.

The reaction you get could differ from employer to employer; some might not be very interested, but others will help you as much as they can.

You may also need to provide verification of what happened in the form – for example, a doctor’s letter or a supporting letter from your university, college or school. It’s important that you can demonstrate that in ‘normal’ circumstances you achieve good grades and are the kind of bright, keen person to pursue legal work experience. Extenuating circumstances can explain a bad exam or a bad year, but the usual rules apply in that firms are only interested in engaged, hardworking people who they think will make good lawyers.

Want to find out more about becoming a solicitor? Head to LawCareers.Net’s Solicitors hub for application advice, firm insights and training contract details.

If you’re more interested in life as a barrister, you can visit the Barristers hub instead.